Dumbbells are great for home workouts.
But with so many options, where do you start?
Today we are going to help you to buy the best dumbbells for your home gym.
Why You Need dumbbells for Your Home Gym
Dumbbells are an excellent implement for getting stronger and building conditioning.
The smaller weight has many benefits, like forcing you to stabilize arms and legs separately, for example.
In addition, we can use them to build muscle and strength (with heavier dumbbells) or endurance and conditioning (lighter dumbbells).
They’re versatile and offer a wide range of training options.
Not only that, but they can be easy to store and transport compared to something like a barbell, key for a home gym.
For that reason, they might be your ideal muscle, strength, and conditioning choice if they suit your budget and goals.
Dumbbells are also great for conditioning where they’re – by definition – lighter and more suitable for higher rep workouts.
Exercises like dumbbell snatches and swings are popular choices, while goblet squats and lunges are also great examples.
Challenges when Using Dumbbells
On the other hand, dumbbells do come with a few additional limitations.
First, their size does limit total loading. Even the heaviest dumbbells are going to pale compared to the 100s and 100s of pounds you can put on a barbell.
This does put a soft upper limit on the amount of weight you’re going to be lifting with your garage-gym dumbbells.
Equally, the additional stability demands limit loading. This isn’t a huge problem – it’s a benefit if anything – but it does mean you need to load differently.
Dumbbells work better with higher reps to challenge the muscles and build well-rounded control during the movements.
What Are the Different Types of Dumbbells?
There are 2 main types of dumbbells – fixed weight and adjustable.
Let’s look at each one by one.
Fixed Weight Dumbbells
Dumbbells are often designed to be a single weight. These are fixed-weight; they are sold at one weight and will only change through damage and degradation.
They’re not designed to change.
Most of the dumbbells you’ve used at a gym fit this description. They are either molded or manufactured at a set weight. Or, in rare cases, they’re fixed together with a bolt.
These are great for durability, but they are limited to versatility.
The weight determines what exercises you can use a dumbbell (or pair) for – and how effective they’ll be.
Unfortunately, they’re often too heavy or too light, making it a difficult purchase.
These are the small molded dumbbells that are usually used in higher-rep work.
They’re very light and are a type of fixed dumbbell. But, unfortunately, they’re just another form of dumbbell that is probably too light for most uses.
If you’re looking to get a great home workout, these can work for some aerobic training. However, they won’t provide a large enough weight for key exercises like squats, lunges, deadlifts, or even most types of presses.
They have a role in the studio, but they’re not the best choice for a home gym.
When we talk about the best dumbbells for the home gym, there’s only one word that defines the best possible kit: adjustable.
Adjustable dumbbells come in many flavors. The two most popular are plate sets and selectorized (more on these below).
What unites them all is that – like a barbell – they are easily changed to make the weight appropriate for your workouts’ exercise, reps, and intention. This is a huge deal.
When we look at the problems of dumbbells – the lack of overload, the rigidity of loading, and the difficulty of finding the right weight for exercise – adjustable dumbbells solve all of these.
They do not have the same limitations. You can do just about anything you’d do with a barbell, with the obvious difference of the amount of weight you can use.
The downside is obvious: these dumbbells are more expensive initially.
But if you buy right, you’re buying an expensive piece of kit only once.
Dumbbell Plate Sets
Plate-loaded adjustable dumbbells are more expensive, but they offer you more control over the top-end weight.
These are Olympic dumbbells that can be loaded with your own weights. An excellent way to save money on a rack of dumbbells, by using the weight plates you already have.
They’re the ultimate in versatility but with a hefty price tag for a single purchase – and perhaps additional plates.
This versatility is perfect for improving workouts and getting the most specific, tailored exercises for your goals.
This is how we get better, and it’s the difference between buying a set of adjustable dumbbells or being stuck with the same weight for the same exercises into the future.
Adjustable Selectorized Dumbbells
Selectorized dumbbells are those with a pre-set system. They’re the kind that comes in a set with a defined top and bottom – and this makes them cheaper in the first instance but does also limit the upper weight capacity.
While the maximum load is still capped by the amount you can fit on a pair of dumbbells, the variety makes adjustable dumbbells the perfect single item for a whole workout.
In addition, it can turn a home into a home gym by itself.
The Nuobell adjustable dumbbell is an excellent combination of weight, quality, and cost. If you don't know which adjustable dumbbell to buy, it's this one.
What Are the Different Dumbbell Shapes?
There are 2 main shapes of dumbbells – hex and round.
Hexagon-shaped dumbbells are a classic. They’re often molded plastic in a hexagon shape, making them versatile for exercises like the renegade row. It also makes them better for push-ups, which can be a nice addition to your conditioning workouts.
The trade-off is that hexagon dumbbells have edges that may take more wear and tear than the rest of the dumbbell.
These are a small trade-off, and it depends on what you’re planning on doing with your workouts.
Hexagon is always a strong choice for a home gym, and they’re often rubberized, which can be useful.
Round dumbbells are the norm – both for fixed and adjustable dumbbell sets.
This is easier to make and doesn’t involve the same edges. They wear more evenly, but they also don’t have the same versatility on the floor, for example, for push-ups.
You can do things like single-arm chest rolls, but these exercises aren’t as useful.
Round dumbbells can also be a bit more difficult to store since they will roll around. If you’re getting fixed weight, around dumbbells should be your main choice if they’re significantly cheaper.
Otherwise, they’re better adjustable dumbbells.
What Are Dumbbells Made From?
One key factor is what finish a set of dumbbells has and what sort of storage you’re using.
If you’re dropping them or using them for dynamic exercise (like a dumbbell snatch), you probably want rubberized.
This helps protect your surfaces and stops the degradation of dumbbells, keeping them safe and preventing damage.
Getting a good finish means you don’t have to have your dumbbells repaired, treated, or replaced. It’s an investment!
Rubberized dumbbells are great for most home gyms since they are hard-wearing and absorb shock. They’re not going to crack or chip in a way that affects them seriously – not as quickly.
Rubberized dumbbells are often a little more expensive since they require finishing. They’ve got metal in them anyway, but the finish helps protect them from damage. They also include hex options, which have their own extensive benefits.
These are the light studio dumbbells mentioned above. These are finished in a lightweight neoprene so that they are durable and – often – don’t wear down due to the lighter weights.
Studio dumbbells have limited benefits for your home gym, but they’re going to last a long time. They can be helpful for prehab work, and a single set may last a lifetime due to the thickness of the neoprene finish!
Cast iron is either great or terrible.
Unfinished cast iron is very temperamental and will rust if it’s not kept in closely monitored conditions.
If you’re getting raw metal, then look for a good powder-coat or Cerakote finish. These are finishes that reduce the risk of things like rust, wear, and blemishes.
Plastic is a bad idea. Plastic dumbbells – even finish – are going to be exposed to rapid degradation.
Dropping a plastic dumbbell is a quick journey to damage, making your equipment look and perform worse. It opens them up to further damage and decay and is a completely unnecessary way to damage expensive home gym equipment.
If you need a finish, get rubber. Plastic should be avoided wherever possible.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Dumbbells for a Home Gym
What is Your Budget?
This is obvious: a budget limits your purchases.
A single pair of dumbbells can be a significant saving if you’re getting fixed weight. It means less spending up-front, which can be a great way to make a lot from a little.
However, in the long run, adjustable dumbbells are a smart saving.
Of course, they cost more in setup, but you don’t have to buy the countless sets of fixed weight dumbbells you’d need to access the same versatility and overload.
How Much Space do You Have?
Buying dumbbells for a home gym is usually a great way to save on space. Maybe you don’t have space for a dedicated home gym with a squat rack and barbell. Perhaps you’re in an apartment and need to watch the floors.
Whatever the reason, dumbbells are great. But, again, adjustable dumbbells are your friends here: they don’t require a huge rack or tons of space.
You can store a set of adjustable dumbbells in a single box in the corner of a room, and they’ll be fine. But, equally, you can stow them away in your garage without taking up space or making your gym kit obvious to would-be thieves.
What Are Your Workout Goals?
Make sure your dumbbells are appropriate for your goals! There’s no point trying to become an Olympic weightlifter with dumbbells.
On the other hand, make sure dumbbells fit your gym setup and what you need: Are dumbbells the only items you’ve got? Do you plan on using barbells as well? Do you have a cable machine at home?
Dumbbells work best in combination with barbells so that you can get the best of both worlds. Heavy barbell lifts, lighter dumbbells work for amazing muscle building and conditioning. However, that’s down to your home gym and what you have available.
When we get to dumbbells, we should look at using them afterward for our muscle-building, though they can work for strength. Mid-rep (6-10) dumbbell bench press, for example, is somewhere between heavy strength work and higher-rep “pump” training.
Everyone can benefit from dumbbells, but they need to suit your goals, budget, and space right now, or you’re not going to get the best value from them.
What Weight Dumbbells Should I buy?
Nothing is as crucial as getting the right weight.
When you buy a set of non-adjustable, fixed dumbbells, you need to make sure you’re getting an appropriate weight.
People often end up with too heavy weights for light exercises (like curls and lateral raises) or too light for heavier exercises (like squats and deadlifts).
Make sure you select a weight that is going to be appropriate for the exercises you’re doing. If you’re using adjustable dumbbells, that’s no problem – and we’ve got a whole section on that coming up.
However, fixed dumbbells depend on you making an intelligent choice based on your existing strength levels.
Choose a pair of dumbbells that are challenging to perform 10 Romanian deadlifts with. This will usually give you great 1- and 2-dumbbell training options from a single pair.
If possible, add another set of lighter dumbbells that would be challenging for ten reps of the overhead press.
Can I get a Full-Body Workout With Dumbbells?
Yes. Yes, you can.
Check out our guide to the best dumbbell workout you can do at home.
A set of dumbbells can be revolutionary. It can turn your apartment into a home gym, or it can add that missing factor to your home gym.
Whatever you’re looking for, stay close to the basics we’ve outlined. Try and get adjustable dumbbells wherever possible and choosing for quality.
Stay close to what you want from your dumbbells and what they’ll be doing in your home gym!